Legends are not born; they are created over time: carefully crafted, manually formed, sometimes trained but mostly self-taught and often qualified as a Jack of all trades.
When it comes to the world of Jeeps, or more specifically World War II army Jeeps, there is no greater legend than Neil Goodridge – owner, operator and hands-on Jeep collector and dealer of Marathon Spares in Tamworth, New South Wales.
Anyone rebuilding, or interested in these old war horses, would have heard of the company and the man that has devoted his life to keeping these old 4x4s going full steam ahead. He hasn’t just stuck to our Australian shores in his search for parts either – he’s travelled the globe and packed countless shipping containers for return to his headquarters.
Neil is not the first of his family to take up the Jeep interest. His father Maxwell started the Marathon company way back in 1965 and Neil took over the reins in 1986. Since then he has strived to search all corners of the globe to keep his ever-increasing number of sheds fully stocked to be able to supply restorers with any part they need – from a 12 (or 24V) horn button to complete engines or brand new crate bodies and chassis.
That’s right; Neil has brand-new undercoated WWII Jeep bodies ready to be delivered to your door. If you need the windscreen wiper motor, a complete gearbox, or perhaps just one cog out of that gearbox, a decal or driver’s seat, exhaust manifold or even a single conrod or steering knuckle oil seal, of all things, then Neil has it… stored away somewhere in his countless number of sheds at work (in town) or on his nearby acreage property.
Older readers will no doubt recall the waxed paper wrapping that car parts used to be stored in? Well, Neil’s shelves are full of those historical parts and waxed paper – he even allowed us to unwrap a few for ourselves, we felt like kids in a candy store.
While walking through the maze of sheds, carefully stepping over priceless parts that had overflowed onto the floor in places, Neil casually recounts filing systems, part numbers and technical facts on any part we cared to excitedly point out or enquire about.
“Oh, that part I had to chainsaw through the floor of a semi-collapsed timber shed in the jungle and retrieve with a winch rope.
“That lid there is off a Willys Jeep, not Ford Jeep. You can tell because it’s got three hinges spaced at (however) many inches apart instead of (some slightly different number) inches. Oh, and… I found that horn button in an old shed of a mate of mine in outback NSW.”
Our time with Neil was truly amazing. His stories were never ending and had us wide-eyed and shaking our heads in astonishment at all that one man (and a few willing mates) has achieved.
While there are many fascinating finds in Australian sheds, paddocks and in stashes behind houses or backyards, most of these are one-offs or smaller collections of rusted, busted and bent Jeeps or parts.
By far the largest haul for Neil has been from the unlikely jungles of the Philippines. You see, at the end of WWII, practically all unused and unwanted Jeeps and associated parts were sold or given to the people of the Philippines and then warehoused in massive multi-level sheds.
Many of these Jeeps and parts were stripped and re-built to what we now know as the colourful and flamboyant multi-seat ‘Jeepney’ which carries both locals and tourists over the narrow-tracked road network of the country. What wasn’t used to convert the Jeepneys was simply left to be overgrown by the jungles.
Neil and his mates have spent many years and trips to the Philippines equipped with chainsaws, axes and lifting equipment to retrieve every last nut and bolt to pack into shipping containers bound for Aussie shores. Once unloaded, categorised and shelved, Neil then offers them to the public via his shopfront, online and the occasional on-site auction.
The majority of the parts from the Philippines are brand new and perfectly preserved in their original wrapping or boxes. Some are clearly marked with the original manufacturer, be it Ford Motor Company of Willys (there were Ford Jeeps and Willys Jeeps at the time) and both versions of the same part have their own unique part number.
Neil says that the Ford parts numbering system was superior and easier, so carries on with that instead of the Willys version. As an example; any part number starting with a ‘3’ is a steering component, a ‘4’ is a differential part, ‘5’ is a chassis member and a ‘6’ is an engine part. There are thousands of parts, most of which are inscribed into Neil’s memory – who needs those fang-dangled computers.
Other collectors and deceased estates within Australia have also offered their complete collections to Neil, which adds to the efforts of retrieval and storage, but Neil reckons it’s all worth it.
Neil started his formal mechanical career as a motor transport fitter in the Royal Australian Air Force, but worked on every conceivable type of vehicle except aeroplanes – go figure. He also managed 12 years of broad mechanical experience prior to being offered a promotion and transfer to Melbourne. Neil wasn’t interested in the move south, so he took to the mines for two years as a plant mechanic… not working on Jeeps.
Neil’s father, Maxwell Goodridge, started Marathon Spares in 1965, yet Neil didn’t start until a good 21 years later in 1986. Maxwell started collecting army surplus while still farming the family property and gradually bought out small Jeep parts dealers around the countryside to help with his stock pile of Jeep parts. That, combined with Neil’s 10 years efforts of bringing containers of Jeep parts from the Philippines, has set them to be one of the major suppliers of WWII parts worldwide.
Initially set up in Yarrowitch (near Walcha) in New South Wales until 2000, he eventually moved into the current location in Tamworth. Neil runs the store with a core group of enthusiasts, but also stores much of his equipment at his nearby home on acreage having ‘outgrown’ the available space in town.
While Neil’s first love is, well we better say his wife and family… but, outside of that, it’s WWII Jeeps and early model CJ Jeeps, and in recent years he has also developed a huge interest in all things JK Wrangler.
Neil has, with the help of a handful of mates, designed and built a handful of JK masterpieces from four-door Wranglers, one of which (Marathon Mauler) appeared in 4X4 Australia. The other (Aussie Hauler) was a tray back Wrangler ute built to prove the vehicle could be adapted to suit the farming life, with factory comfort combined with great on and off-road handling characteristics – something that some other breeds don’t have.
Neil is proud of his low budget (compared to overseas one-off vehicles) achievements and we can attest the brilliant (better than) factory driving feel of the Marathon Mauler, both on and off-road, during our previous drives. At the time of our meeting, Neil had plans to build more prototype vehicles including twin-cab Wranglers.
Regardless of the exact specs, we can assure you it’ll be yet another masterpiece and will be more practical and useable than anything built overseas on much higher budgets. If you happen to be in the market for something a little different – so long as it’s a Jeep – you won’t find a more knowledgeable fella than Neil to help with the project.
While most Jeep parts that Neil carries are genuine Jeep (Willys and Ford manufactured), there are some reproductions available from various suppliers around the world. One notable part is the repro bodies, which Neil has played a major role in ‘getting them right’. Stamped in the Philippines, the initial moulds seemed to be incorrectly manufactured and of dubious quality – many bolt holes and brackets simply didn’t line up with original equipment.
With painstaking, meticulous scrutineering from Neil’s all-knowing military-mind, and 12 trips from Australia to the Philippines, he has managed to rectify the wrongs to enable a brand-new correct body to be stamped, crated and sent to him for Australian customers.
Sure, they are not authentic and to some will never be ‘true’, but when there’s nothing else on offer, how can you go past them, especially given they are rust, dent and bullet-hole free.
It’s Neil’s passion for Jeeps and WWII history that keeps him going. Sadly, none of Neil’s kids seem to be willing to take on the challenge of Marathon Spares, as they have all carved out other careers (some in the 4x4 industry) but Neil jokingly reckons he’s got plenty of kick left in him for at least another 10 years. Perhaps there’ll be a grandchild that might take it all on; none-the-less it’ll be a huge task of learning all that Neil has accumulated in life. Like we said, legends are made not born.
Neil, you are a living Jeep legend and we salute you for all you’ve done for the Jeep community. To be able to purchase anything from a brand-new authentic wheel nut to a complete driving WWII Jeep is simply a remarkable achievement.
4 ln Street, Tamworth, NSW
Ph: (02) 6762 8666